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The Negative Fiscal Impact of Cyber Charter School Expansion in Pennsylvania Due to COVID-19

Pennsylvania has the highest cyber charter school enrollment in the country with student enrollment soaring in 2020-21 due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. School districts paid over $1 billion in tuition for students enrolled in Pennsylvania’s 14 cyber charter schools in 2020-21, a $335 million increase over the prior school year. Districts now cite charter school tuition as their top budget pressure.

In a 2017 study, Research for Action found that districts are unable to realize substantial savings when students depart for charter schools, leaving the vast majority of tuition as a “stranded cost” or negative fiscal impact on district finances. Here we apply the findings of that study to estimate the fiscal impact of the expansion of cyber charter schools attributable to the pandemic. We find that year-one stranded costs ranged from $290 to $308 million dollars statewide, highlighting the need for policymakers to address the inefficient spending on cyber charter schools in current law. We also describe the broader context of cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania.

Click here to download a spreadsheet with RFA’s fiscal impact estimates by school district.